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Food Safety 101: What Every Home Cook Should Know

Do you crack raw eggs and then wipe your hands on a paper towel? Do you use old, stinky dish sponges? Stop what you’re doing, and follow these tips for keeping a clean, hygienic kitchen. From Paleoista: Gain Energy, Get Lean, and Feel Fabulous with the Diet You Were Born to Eat by Nell Stephenson.

• Don’t use sponges. Use cloths and wash them every day. Have you ever been to someone’s home who has an old, foul-smelling sponge covered in mildew resting in their sink, or even worse, under the sink in the dark cabinet? And that is what is used to “clean” dishes? I don’t think so!

• Wash your hands! Thoroughly, often, and with hot water and soap. Not cold water. Not with a spritz of hand sanitizer. Just as basic a method of preventing the spread of germs during cold season, we also must prevent any potential cross contamination from not only raw meats but also unwashed fruits and veggies. Please note that organic does not mean “no need to wash.” Yes, I’ve really had that question posed to me. Don’t skip it!

• Use separate cutting boards. One is only ever used for raw meats and can go in the dishwasher to be sanitized, and the other is only ever used for cutting fruits and vegetables. As previously mentioned, the former can be constructed from BPA-free, recycled, dishwasher-safe plastic. (This is the only type of plastic I’m going to recommend you use, ever, including for transporting your meals on the go.) The latter can be wooden, as you needn’t sanitize it at as high a temp as you do the one that will be in contact with raw meats, poultry, and fish.

• Keep your kitchen sanitized. Disinfect your work surfaces before and after cooking. You don’t have to go the harsh chemical route. Some natural alternatives that work well to disinfect include a mixture of twenty-five drops each tea tree oil and lavender oil in a 16-ounce spray bottle filled with distilled water. Vinegar (This is the only time I’ll be suggesting you use vinegar: as a cleaning product. That should ring a little bell as to it not being something you want to put in your body.) is a great product to use for cleaning oil left from splattering pans on the cooktop, and diluted hydrogen peroxide works wonders as a germ killer, too. Alternatively, you can use a bit of bleach combined with water to make a cheap and quite effective disinfectant.

• Become a pro at mise en place. A French culinary term that translates literally as “everything in place,” practicing and implementing this every time you cook saves you the hassle of having to repeatedly disinfect as you go. For example, if you’ve already taken out all the raw meat from the fridge and are allowing it to rise to room temp before cooking, you needn’t stop chopping veggies mid-carrot, open the fridge, take out the raw meat, close the fridge, and then have to disinfect the door handle and your hands, again, before returning to the cutting board.

• Work in order. Fruit before veggies—if you’re serving fresh strawberries for dessert, opt for hulling and chopping them on the cutting board before you prep the onions and garlic, unless you want the berries to taste like garlic. Fruit and veggies before meat—get the washing and chopping out of the way so you can have the amount and size and shape all ready to go before you begin handling the raw flesh.

• Maintain your personal hygiene. Tie back your hair. Even better, cover it up with a scarf. You don’t really want your hair smelling like sautéed mushrooms anyway, do you?

Wear an apron. Why risk splashing Paleo Pesto on the Prada?

Don’t be eating while you’re cooking. Yes, I do suggest you taste before you serve, but that’s done strictly to make sure you’re presenting something delicious, and it’s done with a clean spoon, used once and then placed in the dishwasher. The intention is not to slurp repeatedly out of the pot of stew you’ll be serving to guests in order to create a haphazard meal for yourself. Think about how you’d feel if you found out that the sous chef at your favorite restaurant had taken several bites out of your sautéed broccoli before giving it to you. Not very enticing, is it?

• Keep all spaces clean. That means your kitchen, your freezer, your pantry, and your drawers. A quarterly (at least!) cleanout during which you take out everything, disinfect the surfaces, and throw away anything that is past its best is a must-do. This includes Paleo-friendly items like dried spices and raw nuts, as well as oils. All can go bad or get rancid, and there’s never a reason to eat spoiled food. And please don’t dispose of it into your pet’s bowl, either. If you wouldn’t eat it, neither should your dog or cat.

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